Looking to pursue a career in physical therapy? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of physical therapy jobs is expected to rise by 28% by 2026. Hence, it may well be the right time to consider a job in the physical therapy profession. And if you can excel in a certain specialization, you may find your future fit!
Forming an integral part of the healthcare team, physical therapists aim to restore or optimize the movement and function of the body after disease or injury. To achieve this goal, they regularly engage in assessing movement dysfunction, devising treatment plans, proposing therapeutic exercises, aiding neuromuscular control of movement, and handling the pain that arises during treatment.
Beyond these basic skills exist certain specializations, each of which defines a specific type of physical therapy. Each has its own unique purpose and set of roles. These days, physical therapists are ultra-specialized like other medical professionals. If you’re considering a career in physical therapy, read on to learn the different specialization options available to you.
1. Pediatric Physical Therapy
Our body nurtures rapidly during childhood and any developments in this phase impact the rest of a person’s life. Hence, any deficiencies during this phase could have negative implications for future growth and well-being. Pediatric physical therapy aims to help infants, children, toddlers, and adolescents to make the most of their growth. If you love children, this profession might be for you!
Pediatric physical therapy seeks to overcome any birth or growth defects a child might be facing and build his or her skeletal and muscular strength as they grow. They often deal with disorders or conditions that inhibit children from growing as they should. Among the most common disorders include cerebral palsy, scoliosis, developmental delays, cystic fibrosis, and brain injuries.
Therapists often treat problems by teaching the children different sort of movements and exercises. They use some specific ways to apply physical therapy to children that differ from techniques used for adults. In addition, they also interact with the child’s family members to counseling them on how to care for, program movements and assist their child.
The job setting of a pediatric physical therapist isn’t confined to hospitals. You’ll see them working in schools, rehabilitation centers, outpatient centers, and even at patients’ homes.
While pediatric physical therapy is regulated by every individual state, you generally need a 3-year Doctor of Physical Therapy degree to assume the role. Students further need to take specialization courses that focus on pediatric physical therapy such as exercise physiology, pharmacology, behavioral science, anatomy, biology, radiology, and pathology.
The degree and further specializations typically require the students to complete supervised practice in the form of an internship or assistantship.
Thus, if you wish to specialize in the pediatric branch of physical therapy, you not only have to pursue an appropriate degree, minors, and specialized programs but also consider whether you’d be able to handle the stress and family communication associated with this job.
2. Geriatric Physical Therapy
As the baby boomer generation is aging, its age-related problems keep on increasing. Therefore, geriatric physical therapy is an ever-growing field.
Initially, we don’t even realize how often we use our muscles in ways that are detrimental to our health, such as bad posture or damaging gait. When we’re young, the rest of our bodies compensate for any damage, but as we grow old, we start experiencing problems as the compensating muscles lose their former strength and stop assisting us when we’re doing something in the wrong way.
Geriatric physical therapy entails treatments that encourage more efficient and safe use of muscles to prevent any injuries. The overall goal is to help elderly patients remain as physically healthy and active as possible. Therapists often help patients by easing the pain that arises from disorders like osteoporosis, arthritis, and stiffness.
Diseases that have no cure and affect day-to-day activities are also common among geriatric physical therapy patients. Therapists in these cases assist the patients in building up muscle strength, maintaining balance, and eliminating the chances of a fall. They also engage with the patients’ family members and caretakers on how to take due care when the patients are at home.
To become a geriatric physical therapist, you need to enroll in a geriatric-focused certificate program after completion of a graduate degree in physical therapy. This is typically a 12-credit hour program that includes courses such as aging, orthopedic evaluation, and treatment of elderly people as well as hands-on training through laboratory exercises.
Source: Movement for life
3. Sports Physical Therapy
If you associate yourself with sports and athletics, you ought to specialize in sports physical therapy. Injuries and twists are quite common for athletes. Some physical therapists specialize in sports medicine work to heal and mitigate injuries sustained during sports activities.
Some common sports injuries are concussions, hip flexor strains, ACL tears, tennis elbow, hamstring injuries, and shoulder injuries, including joint dislocation or tearing of the rotator cuff.
Besides treating injuries, sports therapists also help athletes return to peak performance by applying therapies that aim to boost their speed, restore muscle strength, enhance agility, and quicken reaction times.
Sports therapists make use of various techniques such as stretching, hydrotherapy, strengthening, manual therapy, as well as the application of heat or cold medication or sprays to restore function and movement after injuries.
To attain the necessary knowledge and skills to enter the field of sports physical therapy, students need to obtain a graduate degree in sports physical therapy. It also includes a 1-year practical training program that trains students on the rehabilitation of athletes suffering from injuries. Plus, it enlightens students on how to deal with traumatized athletes.
A doctoral degree in physical therapy serves as a professional standard for licensed physical therapists.
Source: The College of St. Scholastica
4. Orthopedic Physical Therapy
Some physical therapists specialize in treating orthopedic conditions. These include injuries that cause dysfunction and impairment to the soft and bony tissue structures of the body. In other words, it takes care of the entire musculoskeletal system of your body, which is made up of bones, joints, tendons, muscles, and ligaments.
Patients often face issues such as limited functional mobility and loss of strength. These conditions may be caused by injuries like tendonitis, ligament sprains, bone fractures, bursitis, post-operative conditions, or muscle strains. As a result, victims face obstacles in their day-to-day work or leisure activities.
Orthopedic physical therapists help to heal injuries and, in turn, recover your health, range of motion, and overall functional mobility. They also help you through a post-operative rehabilitation program in case you’ve undergone surgery.
The therapist teaches you certain exercises based on your specific condition that aims to restore your normal mobility. The program helps you recover soon and safely return to your routine lifestyle in a short period of time.
The rehabilitation procedure may require the therapist to use certain specific tools such as therapeutic modalities like ultrasound, heat, ice, and electric stimulations, walkers or canes, exercising equipment, progress monitoring tools, and massage and mobilization tools.
To serve as an orthopedic physical therapist, you need to acquire a bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field followed by a 3-year doctoral degree that also includes clinical internships. States also require practitioners to hold a license, for which candidates need to pass an examination.
Source: Very well health
5. Neurological Physical Therapy
Your complex, sophisticated nervous system plays a vital role in regulating and controlling all other functions of your body. Injuries and defects associated with the nervous system not only impact your senses, memory, and mood but also cause problems associated with your movement, speech, respiration system, and your ability to swallow. Hence, patients suffering from neurological diseases must undergo neurological physical therapy.
If someone doesn’t take this therapy seriously after experiencing a neurological injury, he or she may eventually lose independence, experience dysfunction in various areas of the body, which will prevent them from performing some activities. These conditions don’t stop here; if not cured, they result in even more dangerous health problems such as diabetes, heart issues, and lung problems.
Common injuries associated with the nervous system include spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, Guillain-Barre syndrome, strokes, and multiple sclerosis. Neurological physical therapists evaluate and treat patients with movement problems related to these injuries.
They begin with a comprehensive evaluation of the functioning and independence of patients and propose therapies that help patients regain some to most of the lost functions.
All aspiring neurological physical therapists need to hold a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, take up relevant neural certification programs, and attain a license from their respective states.
Source: Franciscan health
6. Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy
Cardiopulmonary physical therapy was the first recognized specialization in physical therapy in 1978. However, there have been dramatic changes in the clinical practice of cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy.
Today, cardiopulmonary disorders are extremely common in adults. Since our cardiopulmonary system functions to deliver oxygen to active tissues, it has a strong correlation with movement. Any abnormality or disease in this particular system directly hampers the performance of our day-to-day activities.
Cardiopulmonary therapists help patients recover from disorders related to cardiac and respiratory systems after an injury. Treatments include developing programs specific to the conditions of the patient, mentoring them on how to go about the rehabilitation, and applying water, heat, or massage therapy.
Successful cardiopulmonary therapists are compassionate, with a desire to help others, and possess outstanding interpersonal communication skills to mentor patients and their families about the course of treatments.
A doctoral degree from an accredited physical therapy program is necessary for any cardiopulmonary therapist. Some undergraduate courses that may serve as prerequisites include biology, social science, physics, anatomy, chemistry, and mathematics. In addition, successful transition today also requires students to take up residency or fellowship programs that are widely available.
Source: Oxford Academic
7. Vestibular Rehabilitation
Balancing our body seems super-easy until we lose balance! Vestibular disorders are problems of the inner ear that can lead to issues like dizziness, vertigo, visual disturbances, or imbalance. Other secondary conditions include fatigue, difficulty concentrating or focusing, nausea, and vomiting.
Such symptoms can significantly diminish the quality of life and adversely affect all aspects of living. To make things worse, patients often adopt a sedentary lifestyle to avoid experiencing dizziness and imbalance. This, in turn, reduces their stamina, reduces muscle strength and flexibility as well as increases joint stiffness. Depression and anxiety are also common.
Vestibular rehabilitation entails an exercise-based program that aims to cure dizziness and vision imbalances and prevent any falls. One issue with this vestibular disorder is that the extent of recovery or restoration of vestibular functions is extremely small.
However, this is where other parts of the nervous system come into play and compensate for the deficient vestibular part. When the vestibular system is damaged, the brain learns to use other senses. Thus, the extent of recovery strongly depends on the health of other parts of the nervous system.
The physical therapist who specializes in this area needs to first evaluate the symptoms and review the medical history of the patient. He’d then develop a plan of care with the ultimate goal of mitigating any deficiencies, improving the patient’s ability to function as well as their body balance.
To serve as a therapist in this area, advanced post-graduate training in physical therapy is needed along with a state-issued license.
Source: Veda life rebalanced
8. Women’s Health
Physical therapy associated with women-specific conditions is an emerging specialization. It incorporates the treatment of problems that come up at different points in a woman’s life.
Physical therapists specialized in this area understand the musculoskeletal system of women and conditions that are specific to them. Conditions like pelvic pain, lymphedema, and osteoporosis are issues that are most commonly dealt with. Prenatal and postnatal care is also provided.
Certain general conditions affect women more severely than men. Therapists are aware of these, and they apply therapies that aim to maintain and promote good health throughout a woman’s life span.
To serve as a physical therapist for women’s health, a doctoral degree in physical therapy, practical internships as well a state-issued license are all mandatory.
Advancements in treatments have extended the life spans of many people who are diagnosed with cancer. Yet, most patients experience a decline in their quality of life before and after treatments. Physical therapists who specialize in oncology help cancer patients and survivors confront the functional challenges that may arise due to cancer and cancer treatments.
In reality, physical therapists have been under-utilized in the area of oncology. They play a vital role in the cancer care team by intervening in all stages of treatment. The cure for cancer itself demands raising the patient’s spirits and optimizing their quality of life. It is essential to maintain the patient’s strength and fatigue levels, alleviate pain, and uphold their bodily functions.
As for the surviving patients, physical therapists are primed to help them recover from severe trauma. They provide the patients with a new life by engaging with them and by applying therapies aimed to restore their diminished functions. They often propose relaxation techniques as well as motivate and encourage patients in a unique fashion.
Physical therapists serving in oncology need to acquire similar education and practical qualification as other physical therapists, as well as a license to practice in each state.
In conclusion, physical therapy is a vast field and continues to demand qualified professionals to lead this career path. We’ve explored 9 different types of physical therapist roles, each of which requires a post-graduate degree, further specialized certifications in their respective area, some practical fellowships, and a state-issued license. With the ball in your court, it’s up to you to decide where your future path lies.